LUBBOCK, Texas – It’s clear that the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the service industry. One of the biggest areas to struggle with staffing and employee shortages are restaurants.

Now restaurants like River Smith’s and the Cast Iron Grill said they’re having to manage another challenge among their staff: people calling out sick. The Cast Iron Grill’s Owner Teresa Stevens said at this point she’s seen it all.  

“We have had all kinds of sickness going on, and none of us have had COVID. Everything else has been strep throat, sinus infection. Oh, gosh, the flu. I mean, you name it,” Stevens said. “Everybody and we stayed so well for you know, I mean 2 years and then it just kind of hit us in December.” 

The Cast Iron Grill isn’t the only restaurant juggling employees out sick. River Smith’s Managing Partner Chris Berry said they’ve had their fair share of employees out sick over the past few weeks. Berry said that it’s one of the most difficult things to anticipate and plan around.   

“A select few have a little bit longer days, and of course, that’s temporary, because it’s covering for shifts,” Berry said. “And it’s impossible to plan for because you don’t know that person’s sick until that morning, when they call in, hopefully, with plenty of time saying – I’m feeling horrible. I’m not gonna make it today.”

Kelsey Erickson Streufert with The Texas Restaurant Association said COVID has impacted restaurants in more ways than one, and this is just another challenge the industry is having to troubleshoot.

“It’s tough because the restaurant industry is not one where folks can work from home,” Erickson Streufert said.     

Erickson Streufert said that in addition to massive worker shortages, restaurants have had to be more flexible and plan things out day by day. 

“We lost almost 60% of our workforce when restaurants were forced to close,” Erickson Streufert said. “So, that’s hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom had to go and find other jobs and other industries. They couldn’t wait for the you know, indeterminate time when we would be reopened again.”  

Berry said the latest challenges around staffing issues have simply become part of our new normal.  

“Kind of been another temporary setback on top of the temporary setback or prolonged setback of,” Berry said, “dealing through this pandemic recovery. January [and] winter is kind of the normal time when folks start getting sick and passing it around everywhere you go.”